Christmas on the breadline

NICOLE MATHEWSON
Last updated 05:00 15/12/2012
CARYS MONTEATH
HUMILIATING SITUATION: Bernadette Connell says she has done everything she can to stand on her own two feet but now finds herself in poverty.

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Bernadette Connell expects to have spaghetti on toast for her Christmas lunch - if she can afford the bread.

The 46-year-old is living on $1 a day after being made redundant from her job as a food court supervisor at the University of Canterbury last month.

Her contract did not allow for a redundancy payout and she relied on help from friends until she started receiving an unemployment benefit last week.

Connell is given a weekly benefit of $204.96 and receives a $65 accommodation supplement, a $9.25 disability allowance and a temporary additional support allowance of $61.49.

Work and Income deducts $15 for debt repayment and $33.15 for child support for her 15-year-old daughter in foster care, while rent on her two-bedroom flat takes $285, leaving her with only $7.55.

She has applied for more than 70 jobs in the past month, but had secured only one interview. Most firms did not respond, and those that did said they received hundreds of applications.

"I'm finding, and I've been told, that one of my biggest barriers now, especially in hospitality, is my age," she said.

"They want young, pretty, skinny girls out the front, whether they can do the job or not. They'd rather have that than work ethic, experience and common sense."

She cannot rent out her second room because her daughter stays every second weekend. Her daughter was in foster care "because of some choices she's made", but Connell hoped to eventually have her back home fulltime.

"It blows my mind, my situation. It's humbling and it's humiliating," she said.

"You do everything you can, but it's not enough. I'm 46. I've never been in trouble with the police or done anything wrong.

"I've done everything I can to stand on my own two feet and here I am way beyond the poverty line and if this is me, how are other people coping and why is no-one paying attention?

"I don't want much. I just want to work."

Connell today said she was "humbled" by the response to her story.

"I know there's people worse off than me out there ... So thank you from the bottom of my little heart."

Anyone wishing to help make Connell's Christmas a little brighter can make a donation either to the Salvation Army (http://salvationarmy.org.nz/giving-back/donate-online/) or Red Cross (http://www.redcross.org.nz/donate).

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- The Press

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